From email@example.com Sun Oct 8 10:31:52 2000
Date: Thu, 5 Oct 2000 23:30:50 -0500 (CDT)
From: "Clore Daniel C" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [smygo] The Post-Liberal Apocalypse
The Post-Liberal Apocalypse. For four days in August, it was end-times in L.A.
By Barbara Ehrenreich, in The Progressive,
5 October 2000
Inside the Staples Center, linen-clad delegates conferred on
their cell phones and celebrated the most conservative
Democratic ticket in at least fifty years. Outside, the
uninvited shouted their conviction that the centers of power,
Democratic Party included, have grown so hopelessly cruel and
corrupt that they no longer deserve to hold.
There was, of course, plenty of less radical and apocalyptic
talk coming from the familiar liberal figures. The Jesse
Jacksons, junior and senior, Paul Wellstone, and Russ Feingold
rushed from podium to podium, expressing disappointment in the
party and then urging their audiences to nevertheless get behind
Gore. At the Campaign for America's Future conference, held in a
room two stories below the surface of the Earth in the Hyatt,
speakers fretted about Social Security privatization, Medicare
expansion, and whether Gore has the mojo to mobilize a numb and
But the object of liberal loyalties--the Democratic Party--refused
to cooperate, or even put on a smiley face. To get into the Staples
Center, you had to pass through two security checkpoints, including
one metal detector and two searches of bags and purses. When we
made our way in, we spent twenty minutes being shunted around by
security guards before finding a couple of seats in the bleachers,
way up near the altitude where the balloons awaited their post-
acceptance-speech release. Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen
Kennedy Townsend wound up a bland and cheerful speech, then a rumpled
man rushed out to the lectern and announced that it was time to vote
on the party platform.
Some desultory shouts from the floor.
Only ours, screeched inaudibly from up high.
That was it--platform approved--and the giant monitors flanking the
stage moved on to a five-minute video of Gore and son climbing a
To see the party's contradictions in high-contrast display, you could
attend the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees rally outside
Loews hotel in Santa Monica. The hotel, which has been doing
everything it can to bust HERE's unionization drive, is owned by
Jonathan Tisch, a major Gore funder. A Latino hotel worker assured us
that Gore would bring Tisch around, that he would, in fact, show up
in person at the rally--although at this point Gore had not even
touched down in L.A.
The landscape, too, refused to nourish traditional liberal hopes.
This was not the L.A. of Hollywood hedonism warded off repeatedly,
in the Gore and Lieberman speeches, with the apotropaic words "family"
and "faith." It was the L.A. of Mike Davis and Ridley Scott, a city
catastrophically divided by race and by class, tragic and doomed. In
anticipation of vast civic disorder, the cops had cleared the entire
periphery of the Staples Center, creating a multi-block dead zone of
shuttered stores and deserted sidewalks. On the streets, the 8,000-
strong army of men and women in blue lounged or stood in formation
with their truncheons and rubber-bullet guns at the ready. Above,
helicopters dipped and rose, monitoring every pedestrian movement
below, diligently protecting the Dems from the demos. In this context,
the liberal hope that the party could be reformed and revived seemed
to fit the anthropological definition of a cargo cult.
Strange things bloom in the desert of post-democratic politics, and
of these the most enigmatic was the Shadow Convention held about a
mile's walk--cop-imposed detours included--from the real one. Here,
Naderites mingled with Hagelinites, potheads with policy wonks, in
a combination movement-center and four-day-long celebrity talk show.
Depending on when you sampled it, you might find Jonathan Kozol
decrying child poverty or neoliberal writer Mickey Kaus declaring
poverty pretty much over, or Roseanne demanding a third party, or
Newsweek's Jonathan Alter denouncing the Naderites. We walked in
once in time to hear Ram Dass announce, "I don't really exist. My
consciousness is here and there and everywhere."
On another visit to the Shadow, we were approached by a five-foot
tall, two-toned green frog and told by its human companion that if
we kissed the frog and disclosed our e-mail addresses to it, something
called frog.com would make a contribution to the Shadow. It was
brilliant and energetic. It was attended by at least 500 people at
all times. It did not add up, nor did it have to.
If you wanted more single-mindedness, you could attend the People's
Convention staged by the Socialist Party, the Homeless Convention,
the Welfare Rights Conference, or the inaugural meeting of Ministers
Against Global Injustice (MAGI).
But the real nexus of radical energy--and focus of police paranoia--
lay completely off the familiar axis connecting liberal to progressive
to socialist. This was the Convergence Center operated by the Direct
Action Network (DAN), and the only nineteenth century ideology in
evidence was anarchism.
We walked carefully around the colorful cloth spread out on the floor
in front of an ecumenical altar at the entrance--an indigenous medicine
woman's skirt, someone explained to us. We paused to admire the puppet-
making and found our way into a workshop on "Anarchism and the
where about twenty-five people, most well under thirty, sat in a circle
on the floor and agonized about what to do next. A man worried that the
movement was going through an "identity crisis" and losing "coherence."
Someone else complained that the direct action strategy that had taken
them from Seattle to Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia and now here had
run its course: "What are anarchists?" he asked, and then gave his own
answer: "A bunch of white kids running around fucking shit up." Where
was the base-building, the community organizing? But others responded
confidently that "anarchism brings it all together," that the movement
is firmly based in the "youth culture."
>From off-the-axis you could go completely off the map--to the North
American Anarchist Conference, ideological home of the nebulous "Black
Bloc" that so irritated DAN by trashing chain stores in Seattle. When
we arrived, Eugene, Oregon, anarchist guru John Zerzan was winding up
a disquisition on the Paleolithic future, when technology and division
will be abolished along with the state. If he hadn't been endorsing Ted
Kaczynski ("but maybe not his methods") as a radical role model, you
could have taken him for a suburban junior high school teacher: middle-
aged, soft-spoken, dressed neatly in a polo and khakis.
There were about 200 people here, mostly white, mostly in their teens
and twenties, and the only reference to the parallel convention of
Democrats was a black and white banner on the wall, proclaiming:
they vote for, we are ungovernable." What about stone tools in the
Paleolithic, someone wanted to know--weren't they technology? No, Zerzan
replied, bafflingly: "Tools are not technology." What about the positive
uses of technology in bringing people together through the Internet? Why
should we settle for "communities based on geographical proximity"?
that's something we've got to work on, I guess," said Zerzan.
But if the anarkids weren't all buying Zerzan's retro-vision, they
to share his view that most of the human accomplishments of the past
years amount to a massive mistake. Government, in particular, has got to
go. We asked one black-clad youth for his opinion of the liberal
who are trying to move the party to the left. "That still has to do with
the government politically," he tells us. "Nothing will really change
the entire system is broken down and restarted." Here, as in the more
mannered Convergence Center, the emphasis was far less on what
might do for us than on what it should stop doing--imprisoning and
people, shooting immigrants at the border, bombing Vieques, beating on
people of color. Liberals look at government and see a potential source
succor--prescription drugs for the elderly, Head Start, labor law
The anarchists of today's radical youth movement look at government and
the sole of the policeman's boot.
In L.A. that week, the police worked overtime to confirm the most
anarchist suspicions. You could be dressed like soccer moms and
with press credentials, as we were; it made no difference. Mingle with
demonstrators, and you became an enemy of the state. Walls of cops
us at every turn--even preventing us, in one instance, from leaving a
demonstration, and an L.A. Times reporter was hit between the eyes by a
rubber bullet. You didn't even have to march with the protesters to feel
the weight of the police state bearing down. Frustrated, perhaps, by an
ACLU-won court order preventing them from closing down the Convergence,
the cops turned on the next available "alternative" venue Tuesday night,
first telling the Shadow folks they had to evacuate their hall on
of a bomb threat, then threatening to tear-gas them if they didn't go
inside. Arianna Huffington, bless her aristocratic soul, faced the LAPD
down, angrily telling KPFK the next day that there was not "one
as Clinton had said in his speech, but two--"One inside the Staples
and one outside."
You could find 1960s-style festivity at these demos--drummers, puppets,
people dressed as clowns--and you could find hundreds of clean-cut Nader
supporters in green T-shirts. But there was something else here too, a
harder edge. The militant minority wore kerchiefs over their faces,
seemed like an affectation until we noticed that many of the faces
the kerchiefs were brown and realized that masking was probably a
precaution. There were familiar chants like "El pueblo unido jamás será
vencido," but also a lot of "Fuck the cops." There was even a bit of
protester-perpetrated "violence" at one point on Monday night when a
few members of the Black Bloc attempted to scale the fourteen-foot fence
separating Staples from the police-constructed protest "pen." The cops
responded with pepper spray. Some protesters--and in the fog of war we
could not see for sure whether they were Black Bloc-ers--started
plastic water bottles, and later, chips of concrete, back at the police.
This was, to say the least, unwise. A few minutes later, cops poured
the pen--where thousands of people were still assembled for the Rage
Against the Machine concert--beating, trampling, and shooting rubber
bullets at random.
What has happened, in the last thirty years, to separate the idealistic
young so radically from their responsible liberal elders, if not from
civilization itself? The answers were plainly written on some of the
protesters' signs: "The Criminalization of a Generation" and the
"Militarization of the Police."
Thirty years ago, the radical young might be denounced as spoiled
products of affluence, but they still represented "our future." Today,
kids in general, and especially kids of color, are targeted as
"superpredators" and gang members, subject to curfews, anti-gang
injunctions, high school drug war harassment, imprisonment along with
adults, even execution.
Thirty years ago, the cops often seemed to be the anarchists, rioting
uncontrollably, for example, in Chicago in '68. Today, they are a
disciplined, high-tech army, bringing techniques honed in Third World
interventions to Seattle, D.C., Philly, L.A. The few who would talk to
us discounted the possibility of peaceful protest; a demonstration,
they had been taught, is a prelude to riot.
In no way did the turmoil in the streets dampen the celebration of the
status quo going on inside Staples. While Joe Lieberman proudly flashed
his sole radical credential--that he had participated in the civil
rights movement in the early sixties--Democratic officials on the roof
above him watched and approved the police war against the young radicals
of our own time.
So it was the Democratic Party that ultimately confirmed the dark
apocalyptic vibe: It's no longer much interested in using government
as a tool to achieve social justice, but it's more eager than ever to
use government as an instrument of force. And we shouldn't need a bunch
of anarchists to tell us this, but a society that destroys its own
whether by poverty or beatings, is doomed.
Barbara Ehrenreich is a columnist for The Progressive.